Drowning in Plastic

Attention has been drawn to the problems being caused by the lamentable failure to increase recycling rates in the developing world. Andrea Merkl, CEO of the Washington based environmental group Ocean Conservancy warned that if governments and private sector fail to solve the problem “we will end up with an ocean that has an amount of plastic that’s in the same order of magnitude as the amount of fish, in terms of tonnes”. Two factors are contributing to this, a growing middle class in the developing world and low recycling rates, causing a huge rise in the amount of plastic washed out to sea. It is estimated that there are about 800m tonnes of fish in the oceans and 100m to 150m tonnes of plastic. This is growing by about 20m tonnes a year but it is expected this will increase as more and more people are able to afford products packaged or made of plastics. At a recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Catherine Novelli, US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment stated ‘Plastic is not just harming the marine environment, but also providing a huge economic cost to fishermen and tourism. Ms Novelli highlighted the fact that the problems were particularly severe in regions like Asia – that have a huge middle class, but trash collection of only around 40%, compared with 95% in the US.

Fortunately the problem is finding its way to the forefront of peoples thinking, not least because of the giant gyres to be found in the Oceans. The North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be twice the size of Texas and swirls in the Pacific Ocean roughly between the coast of California and Hawaii.

Currently, an estimated 11 million tons (and growing) of floating plastic covers an area of nearly 5 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean, 700 miles northeast of the Hawaiian Island chain and 1,000 miles from the coast of California. Plastic recycling is becoming much more vital than in the past, see how one company is trying to use this to their advantage by using recycled plastic products to make furniture.

UK recycling begins to stall

The Government is beginning a campaign to encourage people to recycle more of their rubbish, as growth in recycling rates in England has stalled. A recent report has shown that households are still confused over what can and cannot be recycled and only 25% recycle waste correctly.

The report on our environment was published by the food and rural affairs committee and indicated we need more information to help increase the rate of recycling and cutting the amount of waste placed in landfill. The average adult in England throws away five times their weight a year, accounting for 22million tons of household waste annually. The stall in recycling rates, which were 12% in 2001 and grew significantly each year before stopping at 43% in 2011, however the rise now is under 1% a year. This indicated a need for greater Government information about recycling to hit our UK target of 70% by 2020.